The Yankees have erased a 2-0 lead in the ALCS but Astros manager A.J. Hinch understands that it’s playoff baseball. “The series wasn’t over after two games; it’s certainly not over after four,” Hinch said on Tuesday night.
After four games of the ALCS, the Yankees and Astros have two wins apiece. The best-of-seven has turned into a best-of-three.
Houston took Game 1 when Dallas Keuchel out dueled Masahiro Tanaka. And they took Game 2 on a mad dash home, following a throwback pitching performance from Justin Verlander.
Then the Yankees came home and pounded Houston for an 8-1 win in Game 3. And last night the Bombers rallied from a late 4-0 deficit to win 6-4 and even the series.
“This is a great series,” Hinch said. “This is two really good teams fighting for the chance to represent the American League. I don’t think anyone thought the series was over two games ago. These has been two exciting games for the Yankees. But you’ve got to win four to advance, and no one has won four yet.”
There hasn’t been one specific storyline to key in on. There’s the Jose Altuve-Aaron Judge MVP storyline. New York was limited to two runs over the first two games, and then scored 14 in Games 3 and 4. Houston has seen a 2-0 lead disappear, but they still feel confident with Keuchel and Verlander starting the next two games, with a trip back to Houston for Game 6 and, if necessary, Game 7. There’s also the fact that the dangerous Houston offense that pounded the Red Sox into submission in the ALDS has been kept quiet. Yankee pitching limited the Astros to five runs over the first three games, and two of the four runs last night were unearned.
But don’t think the momentum can just easily carry over. “I’ve always said the momentum starts with your starting pitcher and how well they do,” Joe Girardi said on Wednesday afternoon. “I think both teams were probably extremely confident coming into this Series, considering what they’ve done all season, what we’ve done during the season, to be able to come back 0-2 in Cleveland, there was a lot of confidence. Even when we were down here our guys believed in themselves. I really believe the momentum depends on your pitchers.”
While the Yankees will be challenged by Keuchel and Verlander, the Astros will be facing Tanaka and Luis Severino. “Keuchel doesn’t lay very many eggs, he doesn’t,” Girardi said. “So when he makes a mistake, you better take advantage of it. He made a few the last start, and we missed them. We had the one opportunity to score, we got a player thrown out at home. To beat him we have to be close to perfect. And we have to play a little bit better and not miss pitches. And you go from there.”
Another factor has been the play of the Baby Bombers, Judge, Sanchez, Bird and Severino, who are growing up fast in the playoffs and don’t seem overwhelmed by the moment. “You know, I think it starts with probably their personality and their character more than a lot of other things,” Girardi said. “But I think some of it has to do with the great job that our Minor League system did in identifying players in the draft and signability who can handle New York. I give them a lot of credit in the way they raised them. They went through these times down where there’s expectations down there and there’s a captain’s camp and all the things to prepare them as much as you can.”
In contrast to the Baby Bombers, veterans like CC Sabathia, Brett Gardner and Todd Frazier have contributed this postseason. And their skipper noted that the older players have helped the young guys along. “I also give our veterans a lot of credit for accepting them for who they are and allowing them to be themselves, and continuing to show belief in them like we have,” Girardi said. “Sometimes for a veteran when a young kid is pushing you and pushing you out, it can be difficult. But our guys have embraced them. And I give them a lot of credit. But I think our players are mentally strong, the young kids that we have are mentally strong and are handling the situation pretty well.”
There are still plenty of twists and turns left in the series, whether it’s two of three games. Sometimes, the hero is the star you expect, like when Reggie Jackson hit three homers in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series, which was 40 years ago today. Or the next Aaron Boone can come out of relative anonymity and become a legend.
Whatever happens, it looks like the teams are heading towards a classic finish.